Regular readers (both of you) know that I come back to visit The Wirral, or just “Wirral”, as some prefer, most months of the year. This is where I went to school, and where my parents still live. I sleep in the same room I slept in when I was six. Space is the depository of time, as Proust might have put it.
Unlike my secondary school, which offered a milder version of what Tom Brown had to endure, my primary school was friendly and progressive, and I enjoyed my time there. Mum says that on my first day we went to see the Head Mistress, Miss Shipman, who said “say goodbye to mummy, Colin, and you’ll see her at dinner time”. I was six, and having spent the previous two years in Indonesia, this was my first proper school.
I still have a copy of the school magazine that the pupils put together in our final term. I’ve never had a reason to go back – until last week, that is.
In fact I discovered I had two copies, so I could give one away to the school, if they were interested in having it. I emailed them and they said they were, so I found myself back at my old school, over 50 years since my last visit, talking to headteacher Anne Sheridan, who was of course a lot younger than me.
We flicked through the magazine which she seemed to find interesting and revealing. The lead English teacher came into her office and we talked about it inspiring the pupils to do something similar. It was a rewarding meeting, I think, for all of us. “Has the place changed much?” I was wondering that myself. In many respects, not a lot: the playground and the football field that I could see through the windows; the little children clinging to their adored Mrs Sheridan. The library was still the library, the corridors were still the corridors, the open-tread staircase down which we were exhorted not to run was where it had always been. Could I possibly go upstairs? It was break time, so yes.
I was standing in my old classroom for the first time since I was 11
The chairs were arranged around the tables, just as in my day, except that there were fewer of them. There were 50 of us in Mr Leeming’s class 12! The little Spanish flags caught my eye. Then the little notes pinned to noticeboards: “Uno dos tres”, “¿Cómo te llamas?” They were teaching the kids Spanish… We never had a language lesson, sad to relate. I met the Spanish teacher, and we had a charla en castellano about Tranmere’s epic performance the previous evening.
I’d already booked my train ticket north before they announced that the Watford fixture was postponed owing to a waterlogged pitch. So luckily I’d be in (the) Wirral for the rearranged game. So I had to go.
It was misty and cold, but not pouring with rain. I parked up in Oxton as usual, and walked down to the ground. Inside it was filling up – apart from at the visitors’ end where there were 100 fans at most (two coaches’ worth). Can you blame them for not coming in their droves? Watford to Birkenhead and back on a Thursday night in January for an FA Cup 3rd round replay is a far from enticing prospect.
The pitch was appalling. There was more sand on it than on New Brighton shore. We scored. They equalised. We scored in extra time and won 2-1. Wild celebrations by 10,000 Rovers fans under the floodlights. Next up would be a 4th round home tie against Manchester Utd – just three days later! (On the day of my father’s 94th birthday, so I had a previous engagement.)
Of course we’d only beaten the Hornets’ “Bee team” (geddit?) and we went on to get hammered 0-6 by Man U, but do I care? Anyone who thought we were going to beat Man U, even in their current lamentable league form, needs their head examining. They still stand (amazingly) in 5th position = 50+ plus places above TRFC. They put out a strong team and scored some very good goals. More money in the bank for us and we need new players to keep us up. I’m a realist.